Phil Cox

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Through a glass, darkly

25th April 2010

This well-known passage speaks about our futures:

1 Corinthians 13v8-13
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul had been addressing the over-emphasis in the Corinthian church on spiritual gifts (in many of our churches, he'd probably be addressing their under-emphasis). In chapter 13, verses 1-7, he says that without love - agape - using spiritual gifts, or doing anything else, is a waste of time. He now contrasts agape with these gifts by observing that they will pass away, but love will never pass away.

He then talks about how our spiritual gifts are only partial. He goes on to say that "when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears". That is, our imperfect understanding of God will be replaced by perfect understanding.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me". Paul may well be rebuking the church in Corinth here, saying they should take a mature view of these things. But he is also saying that when we see Jesus in heaven, our understanding of God and His Kingdom will be as different from our partial understanding now, as an adult's wisdom is from a child's intuition.

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face". You may be more familiar with the Authorised Version's translation, "We see through a glass, darkly". A more literal one would be "now we see an enigma in a mirror". Whatever translation you prefer, it's saying that we only get a very fuzzy idea of what heaven will be like.

"then we shall see face to face". Is this too wonderful for us? We will look Jesus in the eye, with awe but without fear. We will be welcomed into His very presence!

"Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known". This promises us that we will know Jesus as well as He knows us. No more "through a glass darkly" then!

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love".

  • We will always have faith in Jesus - we'll never stop trusting Him.
  • We will always have hope - a confidence that the future contains even more wonders than we've already seen. In heaven, life goes on, and we'll spend eternity seeing and doing new things!
  • But the greatest thing of all - eternal and beautiful, speaking more eloquently about Jesus than anything else, is love - agape - the love that took Jesus to the cross for us, the love that will never leave us, the love that forgives us all our sins, the love that won this future for us.

This is the love that God commands us to share with our church and our neighbours.